My Chicago Marathon 2021

In 2008, I was 27 years old and a newlywed, when I ran my first full marathon. Then I ran 9 halves, had 4 kids, and decided I wanted to do the impossible: run another full marathon, post-kids at age 40. I know, I'm a little bit crazy, as most runners are:) I trained with my friend Katie the summer of 2020 until I injured my calf and then the marathon was cancelled anyway that year due to Covid. On the scheduled race day of October 11, 2020, I was actually in bed with Covid. Sick, exhausted, and finishing rehab on my calf. It was not a fun time. 

Enter summer of 2021, when the Chicago Marathon was set to be ON, even though Covid is still not off. It would be the first time in 2 years that road races (not the virtual kind!) would happen. Chicago is a 'major', it boasts 35,000 runners and an incredible spectator turn out of at least 1 million people. So we trained beginning in June, through a hot/humid summer, in the dark, waking at 4:30am and running long runs at 6:00am on weekends. We'd run another 2-3 times during the week and I'd strength train 2 days per week, plus another day or two of cross training (Peloton!). There were Covid scares and quarantines, Nate had knee surgery the week before my race, I had started a small business, and so many other life distractions during those months of training. 

The time commitment to running a full marathon is what gave me pause, waiting 13 years in between my last. But Nate and I agreed to make this a priority in our family for this summer, knowing he'd have to pick up the slack in parenting most weekend mornings while I was out running for 3+ hours. I'd miss soccer games and social events. But team work makes the dream work, right? 

I had one really big goal for these 18 weeks of training: avoid injury. At 40 years old I know I cannot run 70 miles per week, nor do I want to. I'm proud to say I achieved this goal during our training cycle, which was no small feat in itself!

I had four goals for the race itself, in order of importance: have fun, finish, beat my previous time of 4:19 (or even Nate's previous time of 4:15), and don't poop myself. I totally smashed 3 out of 4 of those goals as you'll read soon. 

So how about I recap the marathon itself now, as it's taken a full day for me to compose my thoughts? 

Katie and I met at the starting line at 6:30, but our wave wasn't set to take off until an ungodly late 8:00 am. We were nervous as we kissed our husbands goodbye, but so READY to get the show on the road finally. We hit the porta potties, sat on the concrete and chatted, and then Katie waited for one more porta line before our corrals closed at 7:45. I was in awe watching all of the thousands and thousands of runners fill in the gaps in our corral. These are my people, a diverse crowd of runners with a common thread of focused determination to run 26.2. Old and young, big and small, but everyone tied together by grit and maybe a touch of stubbornness. The energy was pure electricity that morning, and we chatted with a few runners around us to get pumped up. Notable was the couple behind us, who had been friends since high school. It was her 9th marathon and his 3rd, and they were so positive and upbeat about the race ahead. 

When our wave FINALLY started to move, I knew it was game time and snapped a picture of the start line. No more anticipation, it was actually happening! 

I was prepared to go super slow in the beginning, because of the crowds of runners and because a classic rookie move is going out way too fast in the start. We did manages to stay under a 10 min/mile pace, for the first five miles which was perfect.  In those first four miles, I saw two sets of our friends from back home on the sidelines, each and every time we saw familiar faces it felt like a biggest surge of energy. We first found our husbands and Katie's kids and parents at mile 4 and I felt SO stinking excited to see our crew! 

Another remarkable memory is when we ran past an older couple, with signs on their backs that read 'this is my 100th marathon' (!!!!). I yelled over to them that they were incredible. I asked where their first marathon was, and they said 'Chicago!'. They said it was in 1980 or 1981, and I told them this was Katie's first marathon:) They were adorable and pumped us up, saying we needed to enjoy this race because it's just the best. I asked if this was the hottest marathon they've done and they said, 'Well we are from Arizona, so no.' They said the coldest was in Fargo, we thanked them for being amazing, and we were off. One hundred marathons, you guys. 

I took 1/2 of a gel at 5.5 miles, and then by mile 8.5 Katie waved me on while she made a bathroom break. I had hoped to run the first 10 with her, but I also had high hopes of my time goal and for her first marathon, she just wanted to finish (spoiler alert, she totally did it!). So I gave her a quick hug and a pep talk and went ahead. I wanted to push faster but still felt like maybe I should keep my speed in check until the first half was completed, not wanting to tank later.

At mile 11 I took a full gel, and realized my stomach was feeling mighty fine! I saw more friends on the sideline somewhere around here and got another surge of energy, right before rounding the corner near 13 and seeing a man down. 

He was on the left side of the road, someone was lifting his legs overhead (to get the blood back to his head, I guess) and another person was rubbing his chest because he wasn't responding. Immediately I started to spiral mentally. I saw an RN and then an MD with an AED walking towards the scene, and another runner said 'You need to get back there fast!' It really shook me up more than it should have, but I just kept wondering what the hell we were doing out there. That was someone's husband and I felt teary just thinking about him when I heard sirens starting from afar. I still have no idea what happened to him but I'm hopeful he was 'just' passed out from exhaustion and dehydration. 

Crossing the 13 mile marker, I remember telling myself to pull it together. I think I first popped in one AirPod to listen to music and vowed to myself that I'd listen to my body even MORE than before and I honestly didn't even look at my pace again until mile 20. This is also when it registered that my quads were on FIRE. I knew this was really really early in the run to have burning quads but had to push along. My legs never felt this bad on any of our long runs but I tried not to think too much about it while jamming to my marathon playlist. 

Here is where I should mention the Event Alert Status system for marathons. 

The week before the marathon, we started getting emails about how the event had moved into the Yellow/Moderate zone because of the heat and humidity. Slow down! Hydrate! Find extra water stations/ice bags/wet sponges on the course. They were less than ideal conditions for sure, and although temps in the 70s aren't usually that oppressive in October, they certainly feel horrible when running for multiple hours. Later in the race I noticed that they had moved us into the Red category. This was the forecast from the marathon app, check that humidity. Barf.

Anyway, I saw Nate and Katie's husband at mile 14 and instead of just pumping my fist 'hello', I wanted a hug from Nate. So I ran over and snagged a sweaty hug and told him my quads were on fire, and that I saw a guy down back there. He assured me I was doing great and he'd see me soon, so I was off on my way towards 15. 

Boys town was up next and I yanked out my AirPods to fully experience the joy here. I freaking LOVED this neighborhood with the drag queens dancing up on platforms, along either side of the race. The signs there were hilarious and the happiness was just contagious. 

I was running along side of the 4:20 pacers for awhile there. It got us a lot of cheers 'FOOOOOOUR TWENTY, BABYYYYY!' and I was thinking that I still really wanted to be ahead of this pace group. But my quads were failing me big time at this point and I was nervous they'd lock up all together. I was taking in a ton of water along the way, carrying my own water bottle at first and then I started using the water stops by mile 15. I'd take a small sip and then dump the rest on my head and down my back to cool off. The wet sponges were pretty cool too, and I did grab handfuls of ice to put under my hat and down my sports bra. 

Mile 16 seemed impossibly slow and so far from the finish line. Looking back at my pace, this is when I struggled to stay quicker than an 11 min/mile average.  I kept repeating 'sweet sixteen' in my head and tried listening to music, pulling out my air pods when I'd come across 'real' music in a neighborhood. I wanted to pull energy from the crowd and talk to other runners around me but I also felt so depleted that I just couldn't. I had to go internal for a bit and work things out alone, in my mind. 

At mile 17 I took another 1/2 of a gel and started making myself walk through each water station, just a little longer each time. I also stopped to the side and stretched my quads for the first of about 3 times at this point. It hurt so badly to stretch but I was still scared they'd lock up if I didn't. I saw another person down, stretcher on the way and had to avert my eyes to stay focused. 

Some of the signs along the route were seriously epic. A few of my favorites that stuck with me: "Smile if you peed a little", "Your legs hurt because you're a badass", "Toenails are for losers," "You obviously got Moderna", "Remember that you paid for this", "You're almost done #fakenews" at mile 2. There was a guy dressed up as a vintage coach with a clipboard that made me LOL, actual nuns, a runner dressed as the pope, spectators in blow up panda costumes (that gave me an aggressive high five), and a ton of signs that had the mushroom from Mario Brothers on it that said 'touch for power'. I tried to slap every single one of those along the way! 

I saw Nate on the left side of the race at mile 18, so I hobbled over to him for a quick chat. He said he was going to meet me near the finish line and my heart sank a little because I wanted to see him again before that. It seemed so far away. He asked how I felt and I said 'not great, can we PLEASE get an Uber after this to get back to the hotel?' and he agreed. I kissed him and hobbled off, and he texted me a few minutes later to say 'You are crushing it'. I think he knew I needed more pep talks and it totally worked. I had my phone in my pocket and when I had an AirPod, I could sort of hear when a text came through. I was getting so many texts all morning and couldn't read them all but did glance down a few times. So many of my crew were tracking me on the marathon app and apparently it was working well all morning. Saw Truman say 'Good job mom' once and felt teary. Oh, the emotions at mile 18. 

Every time I stopped for water, it felt harder and harder to get started again. I had to talk to myself and dig deep. And somehow it was mile 19! I took a picture because I remember thinking 'this is the most beautiful site I've seen and I want to remember it.' I also took one at mile 20, plus a selfie, and saw a sign that said '6.2 to go' which got me seriously amped up. We did a 20 mile run for the longest training run, and I told myself this was officially the longest I'd 13 years. :)

At mile 20, I also looked at my watch and saw I'd been running for 3 hours 45 min. My initial goal of beating 4:15 was very obviously out of the window, but I let myself dream of being done in just 30 minutes away. Instead, I thought about finishing in 4:30 which I knew would also mean a big push. I tried to go a little faster here and my legs I took my last 1/2 gel at mile 21 and threw the packet away aggressively, the taste in my mouth was so disgusting! I had also been using my own LMNT electrolyte drink in my holsters which really tasted like hell, but I knew I needed electrolytes and didn't want to deal with the Gatorade on the course.

Everything gets a little blurry after this, but I ran through Chinatown and didn't even see the big paper dragons---the one thing Nate prepped me to enjoy. I snapped another pic of mile 22 and saw my college friend again with signs just for me. I wanted to take a picture of her and my sign but I just couldn't muster up the energy, but it did give me a little more pep in my step! I refused to quit on myself and my stubborn tendencies were shining at that moment. I remember checking my heart rate, which strangely never really gets above 145 bpm even with super hard workouts. It was right at 146 which reassured me, because it definitely felt a little fluttery/weird for a hot minute.

Mile 23: 'Just 3 more miles. A simple 3 mile loop at home. Just 3 more miles. I can do this'. I must have allowed myself to walk even longer at this mile marker though, based on my slowest pace of the entire race. I saw Katie's sister waiting for her to jump in and run, and I gave her a huge high five. I told myself I would never, ever do another full again. I'll stick to halves, and try to get faster. Or maybe I'll never run again, or just take a month off....I don't know, but I was bargaining with myself that I never have to run again if I don't want to. I repeated 'beast mode' as a mantra along with 'we can do hard things' and anything else that I could pull from the depths of my soul to KEEP GOING. I wanted to walk forever and ever but I also just wanted to be finished as soon as possible.

Mile 24: 'Just two more freaking miles. 20 minutes. I CAN DO THIS!!!!" I remember stopping to stretch, walk for about 20 seconds, and then almost started to cry when I got started again because my quads hurt so badly. They were just wobbly, like they might give out on me but I knew I couldn't let that happen. I tried to tell myself that this was nothing compared to childbirth, especially to Wallace's med-free birth when I was stuck at 7cm for 2 hours. It honestly didn't help my mental state that much to think, 'I didn't die then and I'm not going to die now!' :) I told myself that pain is just temporary and I'm equipped to handle the pain. But I also wondered how long it would take me to recover from this race.  

I hit mile 25 and got a text from Nate saying he was up on my right side. I was very aware of how tired I looked and like my gait was totally sloppy, out of control. I pulled my AirPods out for the final time and tried to just be present. I counted my steps like, '1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3' and just tried to get one foot in front of the other. I saw Nate at 25.5 and tried super hard to muster up a smile for him. Which reminds me: every time I saw a pro photographer I decided to fake it until I made it, with goofy smiles and poses that I hope will translate into pure insanity. 

I looked up and saw the infamous hill around mile 26. I told myself that I could NOT walk it, no matter how slowly I jogged, and I didn't walk. I kept going. Even when I saw a woman sitting down, passing out, and someone was grabbing her by the shoulders. I kept going, wanting to see the finish line so badly.

I turned my head to the left and saw the most glorious site of my entire life (at that moment). The finish line!!! I snapped a blurry pic and went for it, my legs and feet basically numb at this point. I choked back an exhausted tear and remembered to smile for all of the cameras. They were announcing our names as we crossed the finish line, and if they did say mine they totally botched my last name but I didn't even care. I did it. I finished in 4:40 which is not at all what I hoped, but I can promise you in that moment time didn't matter. 

Crossing the finish line after a race that brutal, that humid, that intense was truly magical. Euphoric, even. The relief was immediate and I gladly accepted a water bottle as the herds of champions walked through the gauntlet. I heard the medals clinking and someone handed me mine. It was beautiful. I high fived a dude next to me, and we kept walking down to collect protein shakes and bananas and whatever else we could hold. I got a reflective blanket and a wet towel for my neck and called Nate to see where to meet him. 

Notable: not one time did I have to stop for a porta potty! Yes, I peed my pants but no poop issues, praise be! And if my Strava is accurate, which it doesn't appear to be, I only walked about 4 minutes total for the whole race. Total steps that day: 54,411 and 31.16 miles trekked. DANG.

It was a bit of a bottle neck getting out of the finish line area and I ended up sitting on a curb, removing my socks and shoes, and telling Nate to come and find me on the corner of Jackson and Columbus. I sat starting at my poor blistered feet, sipping a disgusting banana protein shake, and returning a few texts to friends. I felt so much support from my girl gang, my family, my friends, and even YOU, dear internet. So many people were pulling for Katie and I all morning, and we are pretty lucky to have such an awesome support system! Then Nate called to say he couldn't get in to me, and I needed to walk out to Michigan ave. I said I would try but I would be barefoot because NOPE to putting on my shoes again. 

I had a stranger snap a picture of me as I walked past tall buildings (barefoot, ha), and then I found my guy. He gave me my slides and held my stinky shoes and gave me a big hug. I had another stranger snap our picture and then Nate told me he had bad news: no Ubers available for at least 30 minutes, so we had to walk the mile to our hotel. I fought back a tear and just said 'ok but I'm going painfully slow'. 

We made it back, I showered and discovered about 5 places of intense chafing, and collapsed into the bed. I tried to nap a little bit since I had slept awful the night before and had just run for 4.5 hours:) I honestly haven't been sleeping great since the night before the marathon, but I know my body needs the rest. We stayed the night in our hotel Sunday night, and left Monday around 11 to come home.  I missed the kids dearly but also feel some serious post-race blues. I'm exhausted beyond words and so incredibly sore. But I'm happy and proud of myself for not giving up. 

I know that runners are more than their times. Missing a time goal is really small potatoes in the grand scheme of things and yet, it feels pretty lousy after the fact. I definitely gave it my best that day and for all of my training. But I don't feel like my time accurately reflects my training, my fitness, or my abilities. For reference, my typical half marathon time is 1:52-2:00. I really wanted 4:14 or less on Sunday, and I'm not totally sure what went wrong (besides humid conditions, and crazy-angry quads). While 4:40 isn't 'bad', it's just not even close to what I had hoped to get. Fellow runners will understand this, right?

*If* I do another full marathon again, I'd do just a few things differently: I'd remember to make a sign with my name on my chest, so strangers could cheer for me. I'd line up friends to run with me in segments to keep me going. And I'd really love to see my kids as spectators! Chicago's crowds just did not allow for that this time, and Nate had planned to run with me but then he needed knee surgery so that was out. I'd train about the same, I think----maybe focusing on more speedwork, but I'm also really glad I didn't push so hard that I got injured. 

Before the marathon, when Nate and I were eating a big Italian dinner, he asked me if I was planning to run another marathon after this. I said, 'It depends on how I do tomorrow. If it's a great race and I'm pleased with my time, then I'll be done. If not, I'll probably have to do another'. The night of the marathon, he said, 'Well, so are you going to do another?' I want to say YES. It's just too soon to tell. Once I can walk without a limp I'll let you know. I still feel pretty chewed up and spit out by Chicago, and need to plot my revenge once fully recovered. 

I know that nothing in life is a guarantee and I feel serious gratitude for being able to complete this Chicago Marathon. I did it. What a whirlwind, a magical, horrible, wonderful whirlwind. 


  1. You are amazing! I think you need to celebrate everything about this accomplishment! I can definitely understand when you have a goal that doesn't go as planned and the disappointment that can linger. (I birthed baby #2 naturally and wanted to do so with #3 and things didn't go as planned and I needed Pitocin and then requested an Epidural and almost 5 years later I still think about it.) BUT you have so many reasons to celebrate!!! I love the detail in the post too and am so glad you blogged about it!

  2. Congratulations!! You should be so proud, that’s a good time, esp considering the weather! It was level red ;)
    The lack of taxis and ubers after the race is the worst! I remember walking back to our apartment after my (only) marathon in 2012 bc there wasn’t any available. I was not pleased about it :) And I foolishly hadn’t taken the next day off of work…as a nurse practitioner. I could barely function 😂🤦🏻‍♀️ If I ever run another, I will def plan for a recuperation period :)


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